Mercedes-Benz has committed to offering its F-Cell range of fuel-cell models in the short term, but the longer-term future of the technology appears to be bleak, based on comments made by the company’s chief at the 2017 Detroit motor show.

Dr Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, indicated the German maker is still going to pursue a limited presence in the hydrogen-powered automotive world in the near term, but further down the track the technology may not offer the benefits that had been hoped for in the earlier phases of its development in automotive.

“We are convinced, we think that’s important,” he said of the technology that sees hydrogen stored in a fuel cell on-board the car, which then is turned into electricity to propel the vehicle.

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“Next year we will launch a four-digit number of fuel-cell vehicles,” he said of the new-generation GLC F-Cell hydrogen model, which has plug-in technology as well as fuel-cell power.

“Obviously at that point of time they cannot be bought by any customers, because they would just go from the plant to their garage and that would be it, because of the lack of infrastructure,” Zetsche said.

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“We are at the leading edge in this technology, but at the same time, in the last five, six, seven years, battery electric vehicles have developed much faster and further than we expected, and the advantages of fuel-cell vehicles as far as range is concerned, as far as filling time is concerned, has become much smaller,” Zetsche said.

“For that reason, at this point in time I think it’s smart to focus on battery-electric vehicles,” he said – and the company is doing exactly that, claiming it will offer 10 models under its EQ sub-brand by 2025. The first EQ model is due to roll down the Bremen production line in 2020.

“We will keep our technological strength on the fuel-cell side, and in case, for instance, the overall energy politics would lead to production of hydrogen being a storage solution for generated power, obviously the complementary element vehicle would be fuel-cell vehicles,” he said.

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“How likely is that to happen? I don’t know. But if that’s not happening, I’m not very optimistic about it … [or] on the development of future vehicles.”

Mercedes-Benz has been quite active in the area of fuel-cell motoring for a while now, having completed a world tour in a B-Class F-Cell model way back in 2011.